Monthly Archives: September 2013

Triple Combo!

Rose Fox -- September 30th, 2013

Not content with mashing up two genres, some authors are combining three or more. These are the best I’ve seen recently.

Shapeshifters + romance + aquatic life = Someone to Cuttle by Luna Loupe

Cover image for "Someone to Cuttle".

Yes, that’s a cuttlefish shapeshifter romance. As far as I know this title is unrelated to Ally Blue’s infamous Eight Arms to Hold You, a novel of love between a man and a were-octopus.

Amish + vampires + science fiction = Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

Cover image for "Amish Vampires in Space".

Navy SEALS + werewolves + romance = Hunter’s Heart by J.D. Tyler, part of the Alpha Pack series of Navy SEAL werewolf romances

Cover image for "Hunter's Heart".

Navy SEALs + werewolves + romance + Christmas = A SEAL Wolf Christmas by Terry Spear, part of another series of Navy SEAL werewolf romances

Cover image for "A SEAL Wolf Christmas".

I love those unabashed titles. Readers who pick up A SEAL Wolf Christmas or Amish Vampires in Space won’t have any doubt what they’re getting into. It’s clear the authors and publishers are having fun with these and not taking them too seriously.

What are your favorite triple-treat mash-ups?

Franzen on Form

Seth Satterlee -- September 27th, 2013
Jonathan Franzen’s article in the Guardian the other week created more than a few ripples in the publishing pond, striking a tender nerve. If you haven’t read the article (or responses to it) it seems to be his unapologetic skepticism of “contemporary technoconsumerism” that has riled up the critics. Statements like this seem to have pissed off a lot of people: “the new infernal machine seems increasingly to obey nothing but its own developmental logic… pandering to people’s worst impulses.” Franzen’s brazenness (regardless if you agree with him or not) drove a stake into the publishing landscape, creating a point of reference for publications to define themselves against. Most seemed to find him an old fogie; others, a clear-eyed defender of high art in a sea of texting and Tweets. You can waste a night leafing through the responses.

In a separate, nearly identical article in the Paris Review, Franzen embeds the same bold claims in the footnotes of his translation of the Karl Kraus essay “Against Heine”—an essay taken from his forthcoming The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus, publishing October 1st from FSG. It’s a neat experience to read the mirror articles against each other. Doing so reveals some of Franzen’s analytic tectonics. What is lost in the Guardian essay is the rigorous commitment he has to his source material in the translation—each extrapolation springs from his thinking on Kraus.  In “Against Heine,” Kraus considers the 19th century author Heinrich Heine’s place within the Romantic and Germanic literary traditions, laboring to define what he sees as the central difference between the two: their diverging relationships to content and form.  It’s an intricate, compelling argument. Kraus pits Romantic effusiveness against Germanic starkness, considering how art should relate to the visceral world.  Is content central to art? Or is the presentation of an idea what makes something artistic?  What’s remarkable about Franzen’s essay and the many responses is that people are actually taking these questions seriously.  How often is an article that takes up the relationship between content and form legitimately considered by the mainstream? Franzen, no matter his specific opinions, showcases a singular ability to not only explain these nuanced literary concepts, but to practice them. Where the Guardian essay is tailored for mass consumption, his translation in the Paris Review is tweaked for the literary crowd. The two articles display this same concern with form and content.  Franzen slides his authorial register to reach multiple audiences.  It’s a breath of fresh air to see someone practicing what they preach, and Franzen does so at a remarkably high level.

What the Heck Makes a Book “Best”-worthy?

Alex Crowley -- September 26th, 2013

Right now, in a massive collective effort to determine the best books of 2013, PW’s staff of certified, unassailable geniuses are poring over stacks of books already vetted and approved over the course of the year by our stable of reviewers (they literally all live in a comically oversized stable in Ulster County, NY). It’s a fun but arduous process that will lead to us editors gathering in a pub nearby and arguing about the merits of such-and-such’s book versus that other one that’s clearly unfit for the honor of a spot on the top-10 list (and thus must be content with a place in the bottom 90 *boos* *hisses* or, horror of horrors, not on the long list at all *gasps* *widespread fainting*).

Artist's rendering of our Reviewer Stable

Artist’s rendering of our Reviewers’ Stable

This whole process of making a list of “best” things is, of course, terrifyingly subjective. Frankly, we the editors don’t even necessarily agree on what “best” signifies. We each have our own vague idea(s); some abstract platonic concept existing for itself in the void. But is that even helpful? Probably not, since that entails defining a bunch of other slippery concepts that should be working in perfect symbiosis. So maybe the best we can do for now is run the rule over some of those characteristics that will eventually take their Voltron form (and I speak here from a non-fiction perspective only, the concerns of fiction or poetry differ in both obvious and subtle ways). Anyway, welcome to the sausage factory! Continue reading

Postcards for Book Nerds

Gabe Habash -- September 25th, 2013

Lustig_box_4

Book jackets used to be more than just backs-of-heads or handscripts over simple illustrations. But I’m not here to complain about the decline of the book cover (Tim Kreider does that funnily and thoughtfully here). I’m here to give you a holiday gift idea in September: behold the Alvin Lustig postcards from New Directions.

Like Richard Powers’s gorgeous sci-fi covers, the book covers of Alvin Lustig are so good that you’d buy the book because of how it looked, and then see that, hey look at that, the words inside are actually pretty good, too. I mean have you seen the cover of Illuminations or Flowers of Evil or In the American Grain? If not, don’t worry, here you go:

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1993-31-165-Matt Flynn 023

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Now, New Directions has 50 of Lustig’s best book covers as postcards for under $10. If you’re like me, you’ll probably want to keep them instead of sending them away.

Metadata Ways and Means

Peter Brantley -- September 24th, 2013

Metadata is a much-discussed topic these days, thanks to the efforts of the National Security Agency to acquire as much telecommunications information as possible. NSA actions have made it obvious that petabyte-scale aggregation of metadata is increasingly possible. What is less clear, particularly for cultural institutions, is the extent of intellectual property rights in metadata and their impact on sharing at a time when data are increasingly susceptible to enhancement via linked open data and semantic description. A recent meeting convened by the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, under the direction of Professor Pamela Samuelson and with the assistance of Dave Hansen, assisted by an Alfred P. Sloan grant, explored some of these contours. Continue reading

Otto Penzler’s Kwik Krimes: A Kontributor Komments

Peter Cannon -- September 24th, 2013

One day earlier this month I took the subway downtown after work to the Mysterious Bookshop, where proprietor Otto Penzler was hosting an event for a recently published anthology of his, Kwik Krimes (Thomas & Mercer), in which each of the 81 selections is under a thousand words. Some 20 or so contributors from the New York area arrived early to sign copies. I was one of them.

Last year Otto did me the honor of inviting me to contribute a story to Kwik Krimes. While a full-time job and a full-time family leave me little time or energy for creative writing, I figured I could come up with a thousand words. My first idea was to do a mash-up of Mickey Spillane and Beatrix Potter. I read a collection of early Spillane mysteries, but I wasn’t inspired. Besides, as PW’s mystery reviews editor, I’d seen plenty of examples of cute animals solving crimes. I had nothing new to add to this subgenre. In the end, I drew on a personal incident—a trip to the British Isles with my father and two sisters that we made one summer long ago. Titled “Where’s Dad?,” it’s a kind of homage to my father in the vein of Lily King’s novel Father of the Rain.

Like many a fiction writer drawing on one’s own experience, I changed certain details, but stuck to events as they really happened. Otto accepted the story, with one caveat. He thought a threat of violence was too mild. Would I consider changing the sentence in question to something stronger? I resisted at first, but then I realized Otto was right. The story lacked punch. I decided to give it some, turning a verbal threat into an actual body blow. Thank you, Otto. “Where’s Dad?” works better because of your advice.

Women to Watch: A Report from the Rona Jaffe Awards Reception

Jessamine Chan -- September 20th, 2013

Rona Jaffe Award winners

Tiffany Briere. Ashlee Crews. Kristin Dombek. Margaree Little. Kirstin Valez Quade. Jill Sisson Quinn. Remember these names, because the Rona Jaffe Foundation has a remarkable track record for picking future stars. The only national literary program of its kind devoted to supporting women writers exclusively, the awards were established by novelist Rona Jaffe (1931-2005) in 1995, and provide grants of $30,000 each to six outstanding emerging women writers. Past recipients include Lan Samantha Chang, Rivka Galchen, Tracy K. Smith, and ZZ Packer, a storied group that has gone on to win the Pultizer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Whiting Writer’s Award.

Continue reading

On Memories of Soviet Food and Vladimir Visotsky

Mark Rotella -- September 19th, 2013

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When Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing came across my desk, I immediately flipped through the pages, which brought back memories of my undergraduate studies of Russian literature, and of my own travels within Russia.

As some of the best memoirists do, food writer Anya von Bremzen uses her own life as a jumping off point for the larger history. She emigrated with her mother from Moscow as a child in 1974, and graduated from Julliard in the 1980s—but around that time her career took a turn. When she developed a lump on her wrist, which prohibited her from playing piano, she turned to food and, in a surprise turn of events, landed a cookbook deal at age 24.

For Bremzen, food evoked memories of her life in Moscow, but also transported her further back to the time of her mother’s and grandmother’s youth. And throughout her narrative, she gives a wonderful history of the Soviet Union, from the last days of the czars through the putsch of 1991.

I went to Russia the following year, and remember the versions of pelmeni, dumplings, I ate as I traveled from Petersburg to Irkutsk. And while classical music is ever present for pianist Bremzen, for me it’s the voice and guitar playing of the bard Vladimir Visotsky that still echoes in my head.

What Books Not to Pack

Everett Jones -- September 18th, 2013

As the previous post to this blog explored, a key part of any book lover’s travel plans consists of which books to bring along. When other people are deciding how they’ll be spending their days or where they’ll be dining at night, we are selecting just the right books to pack, transport, and possibly even get around to reading at our chosen destination. For a brief, recent trip to attend a friend’s wedding, though, I didn’t put any such thought into the reading material I stowed away into a traveling bag minutes before leaving for the airport. The only criteria was to shrink the “to read” section of my bookshelf that’s been steadily growing over the course of this year. And, so, it was just a coincidence that two of the books happened to contain, respectively, the words “wedding” and “marriage” in their titles.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, due out from St. Martin’s Press this November, is an authorized sequel, by Sebastian Faulks (Birdsong), to P.G. Wodehouse’s beloved series of comic novels and short stories  about the brilliant, unflappable butler Jeeves and his dense, extremely flappable employer Bertie Wooster. I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies, which was published in January by Knopf, is a study by film historian Jeanine Basinger (The Star Machine) of how the sacred institution of wedlock fared in Golden Age Hollywood, where in films like Woman of the Year, Made for Each Other, and The Long, Long Trailer marriage was celebrated, probed, and sometimes rendered a little less sacred. How the relevance of these two titles initially passed me by , I have no idea, but as soon as they were unpacked, even I couldn’t miss that two likely-looking wedding gifts were sitting in front of me. And what could make a better gift than a book?

For me, at least, that question is easily answered. Of course, I already had a present picked out for the wedding, something practical for the new couple’s starter home, but the temptation to add a book or two on top of it was a hard to resist. Selecting the right book as a present can be as much an invitation to obsess as choosing one as a traveling companion, and finding the right one far more satisfying than by-the-numbers gift-giving. After all, the average gamer will probably appreciate the latest Grand Theft Auto, and the average movie buff should be happy with a DVD of last year’s Best Picture, but a satisfactorily gifted book has to be as closely matched to the recipient as a new outfit or suit.

On the other hand, an unwanted book is a much worse outcome than a piece of electronic media being left in its plastic wrapper untouched. As a gift, a book says something about who you think its intended owner is. If your perception is drastically different from that person’s self-image, the book will be about as much use as clothing tailored to wildly inaccurate measurements. And in this case, I realized that I couldn’t say how welcome either book would be. I’d known the bride for years, but had only met her husband a few times before. Maybe the latter part of the title “I Do or I Don’t” wouldn’t be welcome, certainly not from a near-stranger. As for Jeeves, I wasn’t sure that the groom would want to feel that he was being compared to the idiotic Bertie Wooster. And without having finished the book, how could I know that the promised wedding bells would make for a happy ending? (Okay, I probably didn’t have to finish the book to know that.)

The books went back into the traveling bag, and back with me on my return flight. Sometimes, the book most apt for a given occasion isn’t the most appropriate one for it.

I Pack My Books As Carefully As I Pack My Clothes

Louisa Ermelino -- September 16th, 2013

I pack my books as carefully as I pack my clothes. And I pack real books so I’m very careful, although I shed them as I go along, which proves that I am generous and also that I hate luggage. This obsession goes back a long way, to when I hit the trail overland to India before it was a trail, 9781451626650_p0_v1_s260x420years ahead of the Lonely Planet founders even. I left from Venice, where I was staying with friends who had just come back. They gave me a seashell because I wouldn’t see the sea again until I hit Bombay, told me to remember that we all see the same moon no matter where we are, said I needed a book to read and handed me Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. I was traveling with an Englishman who had just graduated Cambridge and had an entire backpack of books (and not one change of underwear). The ones I remember are: The Golden Bough by James George Frazer, The Secret Doctrine by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and The Murder of Christ by Wilhelm Reich. I would not be borrowing any of these. But enough history.

Truth is, I carried Catch-22 for the next five years and never even opened it. Somewhere on the road, I traded it for a Mars Bar. But I’m seasoned now. I still make mistakes (easily shed) but if you’re going to Egypt, even if it’s just in your imagination, have I got the books for you. Continue reading